LAMMAS / LUGHNASADH
Lammas is a cross-quarter holiday halfway between the Summer Solstice (Litha) and the Autumn Equinox (Mabon). In the southern hemisphere, Lammas is celebrated around 1 February, with the Sun near the midpoint of Aquarius. On the Wheel of the Year, it is opposite Imbolc, which is celebrated late July/early August.
Lammas, also known as the First Fruits Harvest, is a bittersweet festival, as we celebrate the first flush bounty of Mother Earth, while simultaneously recognising that the sun has passed its yearly zenith and is now in decline, meaning we must also begin preparations for the approaching winter. The land is alive with energy, in the vegetables, ripe fields of wheat & corn, onions and garlic, and especially herbs – which are now at their most potent and perfect for harvesting for magickal workings. Everywhere you look is beauty and plenty. At the same time, the days will now begin to grow shorter, growing darker earlier each day as we turn towards the dark part of the wheel.
In the first harvest we also have the first new seeds which represent the promise of new life in the coming year. In addition to celebrating and expressing our thanks to Mother Earth for her
gifts, we take time now to contemplate our own personal harvest. We contemplate what we set out to achieve when we set our intentions at the beginning of the wheel’s cycle, and what we have succeeded
in. This is also a time for letting go of anger, injustice and past regrets, preparing ourselves to move forward and plant our own new seeds.
Because we recognise that winter is now undeniably on its way, we begin to prepare the home by stocking up the magickal cupboard with herbs, pickling and storing overruns from the first harvest for winter treats, cleaning and doing any necessary repairs.
Many people choose to celebrate Lammas as an “eat, drink and be merry” festival, focussing on the excitement and gratitude of first harvest – revelling in the fruits of labour now being rewarded
and celebrating the bountiful land around us. Bread is very symbolic to Lammas as the barley is now being harvested, and so friends and family gather and break bread together, sharing what we
have for every-one’s benefit, and acknowledging our blessings and good fortune.
Others prefer to commemorate Lammas by focussing on “sacrifice” – in that something has to give in to make way for something else – the sun has given his strength to the land to create the fruits
of the harvest, and the very fruits of the harvest themselves will have to wither and die in order to bring forth seeds for next year’s crops.
Ultimately, how you choose to celebrate/commemorate Lammas is a personal choice, and should reflect your personal belief.
Lammas (Anglo-Saxon – “hlaf-mass” = “loaf-mas”), Lughnasadh (Irish-Gaelic), First Fruits Harvest, Festival of Wheat Harvest, Cornucopia, Thingtide, The Feast of Bread
First harvest, abundance, richness, fruitfulness, afterglow, the beginning of the end, generosity, celebrating gifts, sacrifice (something must die in order for something to be born), turning towards darkness, justice and natural justice or karma, human and personal rights issues, freedom from abuse of any kind; for partnerships, both personal and legal or business, for signing contracts or property matters; promotion and career advancement and the regularizing of personal finances; for holidays and journeys to see friends and family or on business and the renewal of promises, loyalty and fidelity; also willing sacrifice for a long term gain or made in love, trusting the cosmos to provide by giving without seeking immediate return; also for all matters concerning people in their forties and fifties.
February 1st (southern hemisphere)
August 1st (northern hemisphere)
Lugh, Llew, The Sun God, The Oak King, The Holly King, Adonis, Dionysus, Tammuz, The Green Man
Demeter, Ceres, Persephone, Habadonia, Sif, Hathor, Cerridwen, Eriu/Macha (Irish Goddess of the Land)
Sachiel. Archangel of the grain harvest and of abundance. He wears robes of deep blue and purple, carrying sheaves of corn and baskets of food with a rich purple and golden halo and blue and purple wings
PLANTS, FLOWERS, HERBS, INCENSE
Acacia, rosemary, sage, thyme, cumin, curry, fenugreek, cinnamon, myrrh, sandalwood, rose, heather, sunflowers, grains, zinnias, marigolds, daisies, heather, rose, chamomile, passionflower, hollyhock, oak, mistletoe, cedar, mytle, rosewood, madrone, alder, redwood, ginger, patchouli
Tigers eye, golden topaz, opal, citrine, ametrine, carnelian, amber, citrine, tourmaline, brown agate, desert rose, jasper, fossilized wood
Red, yellow, orange, gold, copper, bronze, brown, tan (the colours of the sun and of grain)
Oat cakes, breads (especially homemade), cereal products, early summer fruits and vegetables (especially apples – sacred to Lugh), squashes, preserves, jams, tarts, pies, honey, chicken, potato soup
Fresh fruit juices, beer, ale, cider, wine and all things brewed
LAMMAS HISTORY & LORE
The Lammas Festival at the beginning of August (Northern Hemisphere) is one of the four Celtic Cross Quarter Festivals, linked to the old farming calendar - some call it
Lughnasadh. This was a time when people were very close to the land and their lives were governed by the changing of the seasons and the need to grow enough food to survive.
There are links to other cultures and religions too, notably Demeter and Ceres, also associated with crops and the harvest. Corn dollies are a feature of the Lammas festival, and in times past, different areas wove their own beautifully complex designs often decorated with bright ribbons or wool. Traditionally the corn dollies woven at Lammas (or their ashes) were ploughed back into the land at Imbolc, symbolising the return of the Corn Spirit to the earth, in an attempt to ensure a good crop the next year.
There are many ancient customs involving the cutting of the first and last sheaf. The spirit of the corn, sometimes referred to as the Corn Mother, was the sacred symbol of this festival. Many
cultures, including the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, held similar types of rituals where the bounty of the land was honoured. It was also the time when John Barleycorn was
Lammas is also the time of year when sweethearts exchanged favours – these were simple knots woven from corn and sometimes tied with a ribbon. If a girl accepted a boy’s favour, she’d pin it
to her clothing to show the community she was “walking out” with a lad, and he’d pin her favour to his hat to do the same.
In Anglo-Saxon history, it was customary to bring to church a loaf of bread made from the new crop, which began to be harvested at Lammastide. Lammas takes its name from hlaf maesse, the Old English for loaf mass. The loaf was blessed, and in Anglo-Saxon England it might have been employed afterwards to work magic. A common tradition was splitting the loaf into four pieces, which were then positioned at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain.
In many agrarian cultures it was, and in some places still is, common to bring the first harvest to be blessed at the Lughnassadh Celebration, or by the Parish Priest. In addition to honouring the
Spirit of the Grain by keeping the last sheath of wheat or ear of corn, it is common to craft a Corn Mother effigy, to be sown into the fields at the start of the next planting season.
In many parts of England, tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of the harvest.
In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to regularly, it is called “The Feast of First Fruits”. The blessing of first fruits was performed annually in both the Eastern and Western
Churches on the first or sixth of August (Northern Hemisphere). The sixth of August is also the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ.
Lammas coincides with the feast of St Peter in Chains, commemorating St Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison.
In mediaeval Scotland, the feast was sometimes known as the “Gule of August”, but the meaning of “gule” is unclear. Some suggest it is merely an Anglicisation of “Gwyl Awst”, the welsh name of the
“Feast of August”. A Welsh derivation would point to a pre-Christian origin for Lammas and a link to the Gaelic festival of Lughnasadh.
In “The Every-Day Book” written by William Hone in 1838, a later festive Lammas day sport was recorded as common among Scottish farmers near Edinburgh. He says that they “build towers…leaving a
hole for a flag-pole in the center so that they may raise their colors.” When the flags over the many peat-constructed towers were raised, farmers would go to others’ towers and attempt to “level
them to the ground.” A successful attempt would bring great praise. However, people were allowed to defend their towers, and so everyone was provided with a “tooting-horn” to alert nearby country
folk of the impending attack and the battle would turn into a “brawl.” According to Hone, several people had died at this festival and many more were injured. At the day’s end, races were held, with
prizes given to the townspeople.
Several antiquaries beginning with John Brady offered a back construction to its being originally known as Lamb-mass, under the undocumented supposition that the tenants of the Cathedral of York, dedicated to St Peter and Vincula, of which this is the feast, would have been required to bring a live lamb to the church, or with John Skinner, “because Lambs then grew out of season”. This is folk etymology.
In Ireland, Lugh, the Craftsman God of Light was paid homage to, as well as the Sacrificial Oak King. Also, it was a time to honour his foster mother, Tailtiu with outdoor games of skill. She was
originally a Spirit of the Land, most likely, who died after clearing the forests of Ireland to prepare for planting.
In the medieval agricultural year, Lammas also marked the end of the hay harvest that had begun after Midsummer. At the end of hay-making, a sheep would be loosed in the meadow among the movers,
for him to keep who could catch it.
For many villages, wheat would have been running very low in the days before Lammas/first harvest, thus when the new harvest began, a season of plenty, of hard work, company in the fields, reaping
in teams, and a celebratory atmosphere prevailed.
The modern pagan calendar or Wheel of the Year, states that the Lord or Sun God grows old and ethereal, becoming the Elder, as the crops are cut down, so are the days of His life. He is weathered and beginning to weaken. The Goddess is the Mother, heavily pregnant with the infant God to be reborn at Yule.
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